Suburbia: It has been a panacea and an expletive. Touted for affordability and maligned for automobile dependence, suburbia is a fact of life in the U.S.
Respect for Regional Tastes: Palmetto Traditional Homes LLC (No. 251)
The little things that make a home unique to its geographic location make Palmetto Traditional Homes of Columbia, S.C., stand out.
Large national builders have a proven formula for success that transcends regional boundaries. But the little things that make a home unique to its geographic location often get lost in the shuffle, according to builder Andrew White. Those little things make White’s company, Palmetto Traditional Homes of Columbia, S.C., stand out.
PTH owners White, William Robinson, Walter Taylor and Bill Theus have a keen understanding of South Carolina home buyers because all four are South Carolina natives. “The intersection of our production home building experience with our knowledge of the local markets is a pretty good recipe for growth,” White says. “We want to be better than anyone else in the industry at understanding how our customers perceive value. When you homogenize your product by taking stuff from one part of the country to another, you begin to ask consumers what they’re willing to accept instead of what they want.”
Wherever possible, PTH provides wide, shallow lots for rambling ranch homes. “Everybody here grew up in a brick house with a 5/12 roof pitch, so we get as close to that as we can,” White says. It wouldn’t be cost-effective to put real brick on homes priced from the low to mid-$100,000s (PTH uses vinyl siding), but it’s wide, shallow product because South Carolinians still won’t accept houses configured for deep, narrow lots. Sometimes buyer preferences are as simple as a utility room with a door. “We designed an entire series of homes around a utility room in the middle instead of a set of bifold doors over a closet,” says White.
PTH jumped from No. 359 last year to 251 on the 2002 Giants list. Housing revenue nearly doubled to $60.9 million, with 454 closings. The company builds entry-level, move-up and active-adult housing in Columbia, Florence, Charleston and Hilton Head, and will enter two more markets this year: Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C.
White, Robinson, Taylor and Theus founded the company in 1997. White’s title is CEO, but the four men manage PTH as a team, supported by a 12-member leadership team. “We saw a command-and-control structure building a bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy was becoming unresponsive, so we blew it up,” White says. “In-stead of a production manager and a sales manager reporting to a division manager and so on, we cut out a layer of approvals. That makes us more responsive, and we can do that because we have such strong people.” Many team members are veterans of large building companies, including Pulte, UDC Homes, D.R. Horton and Fox & Jacobs, before that firm was acquired by Centex.
|Andrew White, CEO|
Panelization has speeded production significantly and contributed to the company’s growth, says White. A lumberyard in Columbia produces and assembles the framing, panels and other components. “We started hiring college graduates and others with limited home building experience but excellent computer and communications skills,” White says. “That changed the whole formula for the number of houses a superintendent could build in a given neighborhood.” Last year, for example, PTH closed 55-60 houses in each of six communities, well above the regional norm.
To say that White is optimistic about the future would be an understatement. “There’s probably not a better place in the country for a builder to be in the next 20 years than the coast of South Carolina,” he says. “We’ve got a broad range of retirement housing for folks coming down from the Ohio Valley and the Northeast, with Myrtle Beach at the north end of the state representing a fairly low-priced opportunity and Hilton Head at the south end, which is ultra-high-priced.”
White expects the company to deliver a minimum of 600 units this year and 900 to 1,000 in 2003 as production gears up in new markets. “We’re having a lot of fun,” he says. “That’s the most important thing.”